World Food Day Spotlight: Towards food security in Minnesota

Tomatoes from Al-Maa’uun vegetable garden

Today is World Food Day, an annual celebration around the world on every October 16 (in honor of the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in 1945). On this day, Islamic Relief joins many other humanitarian organizations that are concerned about food security worldwide. In recognition of World Food Day, we’re featuring a spotlight on a case study of one of the domestic food security programs we support in Minnesota.

Off in the distance an African American woman walks across the empty parking lot of Masjid an-Nur, past the tan fence line and community mural. She flashes a welcoming but quick smile and hurries through the vegetable garden sitting below the Masjid wall. After picking three ripe red tomatoes she patiently turns toward home.

In a matter of moments this exchange encapsulates the concept of community for the Al-Maa’uun organization. Having a full-fledged garden accessible to residents in North Minneapolis is a small part of the Al-Maa’uun resource hub that is working feverishly to be a source of hope to the North Minneapolis community that has its own unique challenges. Minnesota ranks in the top ten worst states for resident access to groceries near their home.

Imam Makram El-Amin is a decorated community leader. Being at the helm of Al-Maa’uun since it’s inception over 25 years ago would slow the motor of other humans, but community building has energized him in ways unimaginable. “This is our 8 going into 9th year of Al-Maa’uun. The relationship between Masjid An-Nur and Al-Maa’uun is a pretty organic. Really we began as just a small food pantry and food shelf for a number of families, probably twenty-five families that we knew were in need of some extra support,” El-Amin said.

The battle to support North Minneapolis is an uphill one: serving community, powered by community. Food is the central ingredient to operations at Al-Maa’uun. As a longstanding Day of Dignity partner, they have opened up more avenues to health and wellness resources. “We made it our job to bring resources and services to our community and then surround our community with that,” El-Amin said. Thinking on just what impact means El-Amin offered, “Al-Maa’uun is us living our faith out loud.” They operate a full service kitchen servicing over 500 families a month. The staff personally delivers bulk orders to over 15 soup kitchens, schools, and camps within North Minneapolis. But it is a youthful service crew that makes the magic of Al-Maa’uun happen.

Al-Maa’uun vegetable garden

Al-Maa’uun’s kitchen is run completely by neighborhood youth who are trained and certified in food service. For youth at-risk it opens the door to a fruitful occupation that keeps them involved in the progression of their own community.

Anisah is the lead cook for a team of approximately 10 youth food service workers. When the kitchen is in full swing, Anisah grows another set of arms and feet to prepare all the meals to be delivered, all the while delegating effectively to her peers. Their glowing smiles echo her personality. The young staff have become part and parcel of the work.

Being growing pillars of their community is something she doesn’t take lightly. “For me it’s and amazing feeling of being able to have a footprint in the community, and being like, ok I’m helping people, and knowing that people aren’t going hungry because you’re the one feeding them,” Anisah said.

Having a full-fledged kitchen dynamically changed not just what Al-Maa’uun could serve but who. For several schools and youth engagement programs, Al-Maa’uun fills the gap for critical meals. And with families constantly being threatened by dried up finances they make finding a plate of food an easy task. Day-to-day performance demands are tough. Anisah continued, “Everyday we come in we do breakfast for sites, then we immediately begin cooking for lunch, making hundreds of meals a day. We have people in and out every single day.”

Heritage Youth Sports Foundation uses athletics as gateway to mentor youth and adolescents in the community. Their weekend summer basketball camp hosts a gym full of youth of all ages. To ensure not one child goes home hungry, Al-Maa’uun makes their program the first stop for weekend site deliveries.

Executive Director of HYSF Mike Shelton play a dual role as administrator and parent within the initiative. He believes that sports are one of the most effective ways of keeping young kids off the street. “The life skills that they get everyday. That has matriculated outside of basketball,” Shelton said. Food happens to be another way to nourish young bodies but also remind them that someone cares. Shelton agreed, “The food part of it is actually a serious blessing in disguise. I myself I work in a school and in school settings for a long time what we tend to notice is even though a kid might not act or show that they’re hungry, they’re all hungry. A lot of them get here nine in the morning so I know they just rolled out of bed, put their shoes and shirt on, and just came.”

Kamillah El-Amin

IRUSA has partnered in the past twenty five years to elevate projects/programs that work to make national food security a reality. Partners like Al-Maa’uun make the daunting task worthwhile. It has been the dedication of donors and their empathy putting organizations like Al-Maa’uun in position to serve the neighbors they care about the most. Executive staff member Kamillah El-Amin has witnessed what happens when resources are made available to developing communities, particularly North Minneapolis. “You’re making such an impact of people’s lives, there isn’t any words that I can say to you. You would need to feel the love, the dignity, and honor, and respect that people have when they walk away from here,” Kamillah said.

On this 38th annual World Food Day, IRUSA-supported programs like the one at Al-Maa’uun remind us of how your donations to end the worldwide food security crisis go a long way. The program also reminds us that food insecurity is very much a reality right here in the United States as well as worldwide, though the nature of food insecurity and/or poverty in each place may be different.

If you’re looking for ways to celebrate or commemorate World Food Day, visit irusa.org/food-aid/ for more information about the myriad of ways that you can do your part to bring awareness about global food insecurity and help those who are desperately waiting for your support so they can receive the meals they deserve. Donate now at irusa.org/donate.

Tariq is part of the Communications & External Relations team at Islamic Relief USA.

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